Book choice for June 2009

The Barrytown Trilogy (The Van) [suggested by Gabby Evans]

front cover

Note for Chapters members: Gabby originally proposed The Van as her selection, and there was then some debate about whether we should read the whole trilogy. In the end it was decided members should read The Van first (which stands on its own as a novel) and the other two books later if they have time.

Though Doyle never intended to write a trilogy, his first three novels are so true-to-life and so representative of north Dublin that it is easy to see why they are now grouped as a "trilogy." All are set in the same blighted neighbourhood, an area of overcrowded tenements, unemployment, and hardscrabble living, but also an area full of life, dreams for the future, rowdy friendships centred around the pub, and close families. Focusing on various members of the Rabbitte family, the novels show life as it is really lived here, with moments of high humour and often hilarious interactions alternating with moments of sad realisation and broken dreams.

The Van focuses on the father, Jimmy Rabbitte, Sr., now unemployed, who goes to work with his best friend Bimbo, who has bought a "chips" van for selling burgers, fish and chips at sporting events, an experience that tests the friendship.

The dialogue throughout these novels is lightning-fast, filled with local dialect, crude profanities, witticisms, and can-you-top-this insults. In this neighbourhood, survival is based on toughness and the ability to think quickly on one's feet, and the dialogue often resembles a stage play more than a novel. Characterisation, which is thin in The Commitments gradually becomes more complex in later novels. With The Van, Doyle develops into a real novelist, using dialogue to depict the complex tensions which evolve between two best friends who eventually find themselves at each other's throats.

The Rabbitte family is both individualised and symbolic of the neighbourhood, and the three novels together show their need for dreams, along with their attitudes towards education, sex, factory work, and the church. We see their "escapes" from the workday, their physicality, and their amusements and humour. Here, in his Barrytown novels, Doyle shows the vibrancy of life in one blighted area and celebrates the small successes and the love which give meaning to their lives. [Review by Mary Whipple at Amazon]

The novel has a Wikipedia page.

About the Author

Roddy Doyle was born in Dublin in 1958.

His novels are The Commitments, (originally published in Dublin by King Farouk, thereafter London, Secker & Warburg, 1987); The Snapper (Secker & Warburg, 1990); The Van (Secker & Warburg, 1991), which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize; The Barrytown Trilogy [The Commitments, The Snapper, and The Van] (Secker & Warburg,1992); Paddy Clarke, Ha Ha Ha (Secker & Warburg, 1993), which won the 1993 Booker Prize; The Woman Who Walked Into Doors (Secker & Warburg,1996); A Star Called Henry (Secker & Warburg,1999); Oh, Play that Thing (London, Jonathan Cape, 2004); and Paula Spencer (Jonathan Cape, 2006).

The above taken from Irish Writers Online, where the rest of his "biography" consists of further lists, of his short stories, drama, TV series, books for children and awards. Follow the link if you're interested. Doyle, naturally, also has a Wikipedia entry.


Shortlisted for this month

The nominator can bring one, two, or three books to be chosen by the group (or mandated in the case of only one book being selected).  This month, Gabby also brought the following selections:

White Teeth

White Teeth

Epic in scale and intimate in approach, White Teeth is an ambitious novel. Genetics, eugenics, gender, race, class and history are the book's themes but Zadie Smith is gifted with the wit and inventiveness to make these weighty ideas seem effortlessly light.

The story travels through Jamaica, Turkey, Bangladesh and India but ends up in a scrubby North London borough, home of the book's two unlikely heroes: prevaricating Archie Jones and intemperate Samad Iqbal. They met in the Second World War, as part of a "Buggered Battalion" and have been best friends ever since. Archie marries beautiful, buck-toothed Clara, who's on the run from her Jehovah's Witness mother, and they have a daughter, Irie. Samad marries stroppy Alsana and they have twin sons: "Children with first and last names on a direct collision course. Names that secrete within them mass exodus, cramped boats and planes, cold arrivals, medical checks."

Big questions demand boldly drawn characters. Zadie Smith's aren't heroic, just real: warm, funny, misguided and entirely familiar; reading their conversations is like eavesdropping. A simple scene, Alsana and Clara chatting about their pregnancies in the park: "A woman has to have the private things - a husband needn't be involved in body business, in a lady's ... parts."

Samad's rant about his sons - "They have both lost their way. Strayed so far from what I had intended for them. No doubt they will both marry white women called Sheila and put me in an early grave - acutely displays "the immigrant fears - dissolution, disappearance" but it also gets to the very heart of Samad.

White Teeth is a joy to read. It teems with life and exuberance and has enough cleverness and irreverent seriousness to give it bite. [Review by Eithne Farry on Amazon]

The book has its own Wikipedia page.

About the Author

Novelist Zadie Smith was born in North London in 1975 to an English father and a Jamaican mother. She read English at Cambridge, graduating in 1997.

Her acclaimed first novel, White Teeth (2000), is a vibrant portrait of contemporary multicultural London, told through the story of three ethnically diverse families. The book won a number of awards and prizes, including the Guardian First Book Award, the Whitbread First Novel Award, and the Commonwealth Writers Prize (Overall Winner, Best First Book). It also won two EMMA (BT Ethnic and Multicultural Media Awards) for Best Book/Novel and Best Female Media Newcomer, and was shortlisted for the Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, the Orange Prize for Fiction and the Author's Club First Novel Award. White Teeth has been translated into over twenty languages and was adapted for Channel 4 television for broadcast in autumn 2002. Her tenure as Writer in Residence at the Institute of Contemporary Arts resulted in the publication of an anthology of erotic stories entitled Piece of Flesh (2001). More recently, she has written the introduction for The Burned Children of America (2003), a collection of eighteen short stories by a new generation of young American writers.

Zadie Smith's second novel, The Autograph Man (2002), a story of loss, obsession and the nature of celebrity, won the 2003 Jewish Quarterly Literary Prize for Fiction. In 2003 she was nominated by Granta magazine as one of 20 'Best of Young British Novelists'.

Her third novel, On Beauty, was published in 2005, and won the 2006 Orange Prize for Fiction. She has also written a non-fiction book about writing - Fail Better (2006).

Zadie Smith is currently a Radcliffe Fellow at Harvard University.

The above taken from Contemporary, Smith also has an entry on Wikipedia.

A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns

A beautifully crafted and disturbing story of two women victims of the wrath of men. As unforgettable as The Kite Runner, this novel places us in Afghanistan with an open heart [Isabel Allende on Amazon]

The novel has a Wikipedia page.

About the Author

Khaled Hosseini was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1965. His father was a diplomat with the Afghan Foreign Ministry and his mother taught Farsi and History at a large high school in Kabul. In 1976, the Afghan Foreign Ministry relocated the Hosseini family to Paris. They were ready to return to Kabul in 1980, but by then Afghanistan had already witnessed a bloody communist coup and the invasion of the Soviet army. The Hosseinis sought and were granted political asylum in the United States. In September of 1980, Hosseini's family moved to San Jose, California. Hosseini graduated from high school in 1984 and enrolled at Santa Clara University where he earned a bachelor's degree in Biology in 1988. The following year, he entered the University of California-San Diego's School of Medicine, where he earned a Medical Degree in 1993. He completed his residency at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. Hosseini was a practicing internist between 1996 and 2004. While in medical practice, Hosseini began writing his first novel, The Kite Runner, in March of 2001. In 2003, The Kite Runner, was published and has since become an international bestseller, published in 48 countries. In 2006 he was named a goodwill envoy to UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency. His second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns was published in May of 2007. Currently, A Thousand Splendid Suns is published in 40 countries. Khaled has been working to provide humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan through The Khaled Hosseini Foundation. The concept for The Khaled Hosseini Foundation was inspired by a trip to Afghanistan Khaled made in 2007 with the UNHCR. He lives in northern California.

Read more of his biography on his website or check out his entry on Wikipedia.


Previous Months' Book Choices

May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006